Monday, 18 June 2018

The Homogenization of D&D

Ease of communication promotes assimilation. You only have to look around you for a few seconds to notice that. TV and the internet are bringing us all together at an astonishing rate. Whether you live in New York, Paris, London or Tokyo, your life experience is nowadays almost identical. The only differences are which paintings are in what museums and which language the street signs are in.

I exaggerate slightly. But not by much.

Since the World Cup is on at the moment, we can use football as an example. In case you're not familiar with the famous "Brazil/Zaire free kick incident" of 1974, watch this video:

At the time, it was widely believed that the player in question, Mwepu Ilunga, made this mistake because in Zairian football they didn't take free kicks as the "official rules" dictated. This story doesn't actually seem to be true: the player in question later said he did it hoping to get sent off, as a protest because he and his team mates weren't being paid properly by the Zairian footballing authorities. (There's also an apocryphal tale that gets bandied around holding that the Zairian players had been threatened with death by Mobuto Sese Soko if they lost the game by more than 3-0 and either the pressure got to Ilunga, or he was desperate to try to waste time and prevent the Brazilians scoring again.) But it illustrates a point: at that time, football was played quite differently in different parts of the world. It was rare for players to move overseas to play football, and there were radically different playing styles in England, Scotland, Italy, Brazil, and so on. It was only 20 years prior to the Ilunga free kick that Hungary had revolutionised international football by creating their new "WW" system and suddenly unleashing it on the unsuspecting English; it was possible for them to do this because nobody in England had a clue what was going on in Hungarian football. It was thus entirely possible for a viewing audience in 1974 to imagine that in Zaire they had different rules for free kicks: it's a reflection of how diverse the public understood international football to be

It wouldn't be possible nowadays. Football has globalized, and as it has globalized it has homogenized. I sit here writing this blog entry watching Brazil v Switzerland. Most of the players on both teams play together or against each other regularly in English, Spanish, German or Italian club football. Their club teams and international teams use the same or very similar formations. The two sides both emphasise the same qualities in players. In 1974 a tie between Brazil and Switzerland would have showcased two very different styles. Now, they're basically the same.

The same will happen with D&D. It is happening now. When I was a kid, the only frames of reference you had for understanding what D&D was actually like were the people around you who introduced you to the game, the page long "example of play" in the PHB, what you could glean from various hints and asides in the text of the rules themselves, and maybe the little "choose your own adventure" style intro in Red Box Basic. That was it. Other than that, you were on your own: D&D was what you and your friends made of it.

Think of a new player nowadays. You can go online and watch Will Wheaton, or a thousand other people, actually play sessions of D&D right in front of your very eyes. You can read forums, blogs, and other online resources discussing different play styles in intricate detail. You can directly contact many RPG designers through social media. You can go on Tumblr or Twitter and heap abuse on people who don't conform to what you think D&D is about. The texture of your introduction to the game, as a neophyte, is utterly different to what it was in 1985. 

D&D will become like football. It's not that all games will be the same, and it's not that there won't be innovations. It's that we'll end up with largely the same play styles dominating (some people will prefer "narrative" style games versus "OSR" style games, just like some football teams play a 4-2-3-1 versus a 3-4-3 or play an attacking game versus a counter-attacking style, but they will deploy those styles in homogenous ways) and there will be much, much, much less variety than there once was.

What happens when your touchstone for "what D&D is like" ends up being Will Wheaton and not, say, your friend's older brother and his mates (which was my introduction to the game)? A more significant question than can be dealt with in a blogpost, probably. Switzerland have just equalised and it's got interesting, so I'll leave it up to you to deal with in the comments. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The War-[x] Game

Put the word "chaos" in front of almost any animal name (or any object, pretty much) and instantly you get a monster idea. Try it. Chaos butterfly. Chaos dog. Chaos toad. Chaos cow. 

The same is also true of "war". War bat. War hippo. War heron. War owl. 

What I like about the "war-[x]" gambit is that you don't just get a cool-sounding monster name. You get an implied setting and culture surrounding it too. What society has war bats? Maybe a race of troglodytic jungle cave men who use their war bats, trained to fly into people's faces, to blind enemy warriors. What about war hippos? Clearly one that resembles Ancient Egypt, Nubia, or maybe Great Zimbabwe. Its elite warrior class, its knights, ride around on hippos and are even able to use them to travel up and down rivers (legends still tell of a famous battle in which an army of war hippos, together with knights, crossed the sea to sack a city of the Ancient Greece analogue in the setting). War herons are trained by a marsh-dwelling people to peck out the kneecaps or pierce the feet of intruders as they pass by thick reed beds. War owls are used by a society of nocturnal elves to scratch out the eyes of the foolish humans who enter their forests - or maybe to hunt down and devour pixies.

Try it and see. 

Monday, 11 June 2018

Lay a Little Egg for Me

Today we visited some friends in the countryside who keep, among other things, chickens. They have a flock of about a dozen of them, and the birds are free to roam across a large corner of an orchard which must be very close to chicken paradise: nice cool shade from the trees with a few spots of sun here and there, all the food and water they can drink, lots of grassy areas to roam around in, and shelter from the elements.

But chicken paradise, it turns out, is actually something close to HELL: a dystopian nightmare of viciously and vigorously enforced social hierarchy from which nobody can escape, characterised by unprovoked and brutal beatings, theft of food, sexual assault, and constant unrelenting low-level bullying and violence.

Animals do not have morals. But even within that context, chickens take amorality to the extreme.

They are also probably the scariest non-dangerous-to-humans farmyard animal. They are, to all intents and purposes, miniature velociraptors, and the link to the dinosaurs is absolutely transparent and clear as soon as you spend any time watching them - the only thing they really lack is teeth. The chickens at my friend's farm spent most of the afternoon stalking and catching flies through areas of long grass in their little domain. Watching them doing this was like a case study in efficient predation. Those flies had no chance. Each chicken was like a T-rex, striding back and forth with constant twitching head movements until it fixated on a fly landing on a blade of grass, whereupon it would dart its head forward with such speed that not even a blue bottle could escape. It wasn't hard at all to imagine what the results would be if those birds were 8 feet tall and became interested in the taste of human flesh. They would be ruling the planet within months and we would be laying eggs for them.

I missed a trick with chickens in Yoon-Suin. Our modern domesticated animals are descendants of the Red Junglefowl, a wild bird whose range almost directly maps to the regions of the world which were its geographic inspiration. I should have done something with that. In a fantasy setting, a race of chicken-men could be like orcs: a being with a society that prioritizes only selfishness, where might makes right, and where the only respected value is the pecking order - literally.


HD 2+2
AC 5
#ATT 2
DMG 1d4/1d6 (peck/gouge)
Move 180
ML 7
*Chicken-men can fly clumsily for up to 60' but need to land and then rest for 3 rounds afterwards.
*Chicken-men attack with a peck and a gouge from a taloned foot. They can instead sacrifice making those attacks in order to either:
1) Use both feet to trample and pin a human-sized-or smaller opponent to the ground; if they hit successfully they pull their target to the ground and pin it. This does no damage but in subsequent rounds the chicken-man can peck the head, doing 2d4+2 damage. The chicken-man will let go if hit and wounded.
2) Buffet with the wings. This hits any enemy in a semi-circular arc in front of the chicken automatically, doing 1d2 damage.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

D&D, Bourdieu, and Surfing

I am not an anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist or indeed anybody whose views you should take remotely seriously. I begin that post with that disclaimer. That said, I wonder why it is that, since roughly the turn of the 21st century, "geek culture" has caught on and become increasingly mainstream (recognising that being a "geek" is by no means the same thing in 2018 as it was in 1988). I suppose a conventional explanation for this might be that it's thanks to certain notable media successes, like the Lord of the Rings films, The Big Bang Theory, the various Marvel and Warner Bros comic and superhero tie-ins, all of which have made it okay to be into science fiction and fantasy.

I wonder whether the more realistic explanation is that social capital (and actual capital) increasingly accrues, in the knowledge economy, to people who are in one sense or another "geeky". Not to get all Bourdieu about it, but liking geeky stuff has become an act of social positioning: it has become associated with wealth and status in a way in which it never was when I wur a lad. It's not that the decision to define oneself as a geek is deliberate in that way. But it has become attractive for those reasons.

Which would partly explain why (see my previous post) playing D&D is now apparently common and socially acceptable at posh universities attended by young people who will be successful in future and running the country and all that jazz.

In other words - and I don't think is remotely deliberate - Peter Jackson just happened to make a trilogy of films for which the timing was absolutely perfect: he was riding a wave which nobody else had really seen coming either and happened to catch it just as it was cresting. It's still on its way to shore now and WotC are now riding it too.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Report from the Field

I recently had a (successful, thanks for asking) job interview at one of the UK's best universities (top 10 on all the ranking lists I'm aware of - that should help you stalkers out there narrow me down somewhat). While there, I took the opportunity to browse through their campus bookshop. Sure enough, nestled among all the textbooks on endocrinology and financial risk management; the medieval French literature and obscure theological tomes; the experimental postmodern novels and historical treatises on trade unions in Uruguay in the 1870-1890 period; etc., I found an entire bookcase - not a shelf, a bookcase - of 5th edition D&D books.

There can only be one conclusion, which I arrive at hastily and without any sort of empirical evidence beyond this anecdote: D&D is getting popular again.

Not hugely popular, I think. I doubt we'll get back to heady days of the 1980s and 1990s when British bookshops and even music shops used to have entire, vast sections of RPG rulebooks and supplements for spotty teenaged boys to browse. But things are happening for 5th edition in a way that I don't think they happened for editions 3 and 4. Whisper it, but D&D is almost in the cultural zeitgeist - for all my loathing of geek culture and all it entails, there is no denying its power and momentum.

A point of comparison: when I left home to go to university myself, back in 1999, I had already "grown out" of RPGs a few years earlier and wouldn't have dreamed of getting involved in them during my time as a student. (I returned to the fold in the mid-late 2000s.) The idea of RPG books being available in campus bookshops... it would have been unthinkable. The kind of student who exists nowadays - the self-identifying geek with the fashionably naff glasses, the t-shirt with its ironic and unfunny slogan, the so-not-chic-they're-chic Doc Martens, etc., you know the sort - simply didn't exist. There were plenty of nerds, but they either hid it more or less successfully (my attempted strategy) or were so utterly socially isolated, so far beyond the periphery of polite society that they were figuratively and might as well literally have been kobolds, that it didn't matter.

Now you can not only buy D&D books in prestigious universities that very posh people go to. You can (I assume) buy them without shame and even, possibly, in a way, you can even do it and be considered cool.

The times they are a-changin'.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Random Mythical Wizards in 7th Century Northern Japan

The forests of the Emishi are home to wizards and warlocks – solitary men of magic able to manipulate others’ minds, the land around them, and even death itself. These malevolent tricksters use these powers for their own pleasure, or in order to visit pain and sorrow on those they feel have wronged them: they only ever act without malice when they can benefit directly from acting against their true nature.

All wizards have 1d6+4 HD and spells as listed in the “Powers” column. Their servants are utterly loyal and can carry messages and perform other tasks appropriate to their nature - such as holding objects, stealing items, scouting, and so on. Wizards have the following treasures: Textiles x 1, Jewelery x 2, Magic x 2, Weapons x 1.

Servants (1d3 types)
Liar. The wizard spreads malice through convincing unfortunates of things that are not true.  (Charm Person, Fool’s Gold, Forget, Magic Mouth, ESP,  Suggestion, Tongues, Hypnotism, Misdirection, False Seeing)
At the top of an extremely tall tree in a crude tree house – a platform and bivouac. The wizard is able to climb up and down trees, and leap between them, with unnatural grace and strength.
Moths. Can scatter powder in their air from their wings as they fly, to cause the effects of a sleep, slow or stinking cloud spell. The wizard releases the moths from his clothing and they scatter their powder over an area of a 12 yard sphere within 100 yards of the wizard's location. The wizard has three moth swarms, each with the different spell-effect type and each of which moves at 90.
The wizard has targeted a prominent NPC in a nearby Emishi village for his malice.
Trickster. The wizard spreads malice through illusions and phantasms to terrify, confuse, or upset the unwary. (Audible Glamer, Change Self, Ventriloquism, Phantasmal Force, Improved Phantasmal Force, Mirror Image, Hallucinatory Terrain, Spectral Force, Confusion, Maze)
On a tiny island in a lake, just barely big enough for a clump of trees partially concealing his hut. The wizard can swim unnaturally quickly (at 180) and breathe underwater.
Woodpeckers. 1d3+1 in number. Together they can forego making an action to use their hammering on a tree to summon aid (as per the Animal Summoning II spell) once per day. They must all act in unison to do this.
The wizard wants a rare magical item (pick or create one, or roll randomly on the Magic Treasure List) and will help anyone who gets it for him.
Thief. The wizard simply steals things – items with the most sentimental value being best of all. (Pass Without Trace, Find Traps, Detect Magic, Jump, Invisibility, Knock, Feign Death, Dig, Blink, Dimension Door, Clairvoyance)
The wizard has no lair and roams about nomadically – he does not sleep and wears all his possessions. He cannot be tracked and will only be encountered randomly – unless he chooses to be found. 
Snakes. If the wizard is encountered outdoors, and is endangered, snakes strike. This happens once: anyone the wizard perceives as a threat within 50 yards, up to a total of 8 people, is targeted. Each must save vs poison or be paralysed and suffer hallucinations for 1d3 days.
The wizard was recently foiled in his plans by a local prominent NPC and will help anyone who brings that person to him dead or (preferably) alive.
Murderer. Quite simply, the wizard enjoys taking life. (Hold Person, Poison, Cause Serious Wounds, Cause Critical Wounds, Finger of Death)
In a deep cave in a cliff face, covered in hanging ivy. The wizard can see perfectly in the dark and is never surprised in his lair.
Owls. Familiars which bestow the wizard ‘s enemies with misfortune. There are three owls. The first may cast Feeblemind once per day. The second may cast Emotion once per day. The third may cast Confusion once per day.
The wizard has a rival nearby and the two are locked in war.
Seducer. The wizard seduces women (or men) to break hearts, disrupt family harmony, and humiliate cuckolds. (Charm Person, Suggestion, Command, Change Self, ESP, Friends, Hypnotism, False Seeing)
In a hollow underneath a huge moss-covered boulder, accessible only through a crack in the top. The wizard can shrink or enlarge himself three times per day.
Sparrows. A flock of tiny fluttering feathered sprites who, when acting together, form into a swirling swarm of razor-sharp wings that tear through flesh, bone and even steel. This acts as the equivalent of a Blade Barrier spell.
The wizard wants escorts to take him up a mountain, to an island off the coast, or another place that is difficult to access, in order to perform a ritual of some kind.
Enslaver. The wizard enjoys holding power over others and forcing them to obey his commands. (Charm Person, Suggestion, Command, Mass Suggestion, Hold Person, Paralysation, ESP)
In a cave behind a 20-metre tall waterfall with sheer cliffs on either side. The wizard can spider climb at will.
Monkey. A calm, sage-like simian with malevolent eyes who provides the wizard with a link to the world of the gods and spirits. He can cast one spell once a day from each of the cleric and druid spell lists up to 5th level.
The wizard senses the presence of the PCs as “strangers” and targets them.
Tormentor. The wizard derives satisfaction from the infliction of pain which does not kill. (Hold Person, Cause Light Wounds, Cause Serious Wounds, Shocking Grasp, Burning Hands, Scare)
On a hill top above an almost-sheer slope of scree; the wizard is as sure-of-foot as a goat and moves perfectly silently; he always surprises opponents except on a 1 in 10.
Cicadas. These hum, buzz, whir and chitter across a radius of 30’, causing deafness, producing silence throughout the radius, and causing debilitating headaches which paralyse on a failed save for the duration of the song. The song is continuous but the cicadas must break for one round in every 6.
The wizard is in the midst of a struggle for territory with an animal spirit.
Spoiler. The wizard’s pleasure comes from destroying that which is beautiful or creative, or simply causing the innocent to despair. (Bestow Curse, Putrefy Food & Drink, Cause Disease, Cause Blindness, Produce Flame, Insect Plague, Disintegrate, Transmute Rock to Mud)
In a village, Yamato fort, or other settled place. The wizard can disguise himself perfectly and lives hiding in plain sight. He can wear other disguises to resemble almost anyone he meets.
Flies. A swarm of 3d10 iridescent green flies which explode with blue flame on striking one of the wizard’s enemies. This destroys the fly and does 2d8 damage, as well as igniting any flammable material within 1 yard. The fly must successfully roll to hit (as a 1 HD monster). The wizard can summon new flies once per month.
The wizard is in love with a nearby Emishi woman, but he wants her love to be genuinely reciprocal.

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Brothers Squamous: Who Are They?

This post is the second in an ongoing series.

Three green dragons, all brothers, who have built a treasure house together. Each needs to be different. Each also needs to be a rival of the others.

The tonal palette of The Brothers Squamous is, as I decided in yesterday's post, North-West European. Giving the dragons Latinate names is an easy way, then, to make them distinctive. But their names have to stem from their nature. What is each dragon associated with?

Since one of the "trifectas" of golem types in the dungeon is morning, noon and evening light, I think that having each brother associated with either the dawn, noon or dusk makes sense, and also sets sparks of ideas off in my head. Maybe all of them emerged from their eggs on the same day, with one in the morning, one at noon, and one in the evening, and each has associated with that time of day ever since. (Perhaps their unacknowledged sister is the night?)

I think, then, I will call these dragons Oriens, for the dawn, Meridies, for noon, and Vespera, for the evening.

Oriens is interested in new beginnings, in births, in youth, in novelty, in the future, in the East, in openness, in revelation.

Meridies is interested in heat, in light, in the present, in action, in energy, in the sun.

Vespera is interested in endings, in deaths, in the past, in slowness, in closure, in concealment.

Their respective regions of the dungeon will reflect those characteristics - with the caveat that the brothers have all been sleeping for a very long time and the dungeon they created is no longer as they remember it.

I also did some thinking today about geography, and decided I didn't want to over-egg the importance of the number "three". Hence, the dungeon is just on an island in a lake which is itself on an island in a lake. There are, the internet tells me, a few of these in the world - here is a picture of one on the Philippines:

It would make sense, I'm sure you will agree, if the outer island had something WEIRD about it. More on that tomorrow.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Brothers Squamous: Introduction and Key Themes

Once again, politics has reared its ugly head on G+ and the blogosphere. The only antidote, I feel, is for those of us sane ones who remain to Keep Calm and Carry On. To that end, a creative project. (Long term readers of the blog will know how appalling my track record is with this kind of thing. But whatever. Sooner or later one will stick.)

I have a folder on my desktop which is called "Current Projects". It has over a dozen subfolders. One of them is called "Three Green Dragons Dungeon". There is nothing in it except a .txt file called "Basic Idea".. Let's change that: I'm going to create this "Three Green Dragons Dungeon" through posts on the blog, little by little, drawing direct inspiration from this awe-inspiringly wonderful series of posts by Benoist on therpgsite. Now just try and stop me.

What is the "Three Green Dragons Dungeon"? Well, it's a dungeon created by three green dragons, duh. The "Basic Idea" .txt file reads as follows:

Dungeon on an island in the middle of a lake which is itself on an island in the middle of a bigger lake.
Conceit is that three green dragons, all brothers, created a fortress there to house their treasure. 
Guarded by golems they created from wood, earth, mist, dawn light, noon light, evening light.
Then something happened and they went into a deep slumber. Over time new inhabitants moved in. But the golems are still there. And also the dragons.

Looking at this now, I instantly pick up a few broad themes that I would like to explore:

1) The number "three". There is a kind of interesting symmetry between the notion of a dungeon on the island in the middle of a lake which is itself on an island in the middle of a lake, and the notion the dungeon is created by three brothers. (If I wanted to push that symmetry, there I suppose ought to be a dungeon on an island in the middle of a lake, which is on an island in the middle of a bigger lake, which is on an island in the middle of an even bigger lake.)

2) Rings. Islands on lakes on islands on lakes creates visions of concentric circles - at least in my head. This is something to be explored in the architecture of the dungeon. Also, dragons like rings.

3) Family. The dragons are three brothers. I like the idea of them as rivals. But I also wonder if another family member could be involved somewhere - a sister, or their mother?

4) "New inhabitants". I already feel like I know the tonal palette, here. It's Northern Europe; it's old school dragons like Smaug or St George's enemy; it's deep dark forests and brooding fjords and mountains; it's mist and rain; it's Celtic, Nordic and Saxon myth-inflected; it's fairy tales and folklore and bedtime stories - but it all has to be original. No straight lifting, and no orcs, goblins, dwarves or elves (at least as we understand them).

5) The golems. Again, we find echoes of the number three. The golems are made of wood, earth or mist; or of dawn light, noon light and evening light. Maybe each brother has purview over one element from the first of these trios and one from the second? Mist pairs nicely with dawn light, but other connections aren't readily apparent...

6) The nearest town. Why is it that I want it to be ruled by ettercaps? But I do. A silk-spun settlement with an ettercap queen, where human life is tolerated in the interests of trade - and in return for the occasional titbit of fresh, tasty human flesh.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Being Watched

Apparently, watching other people play D&D is a thing. It's growing in importance. In a sense, it's not difficult to see why: watching other people do things seems to be a hugely popular hobby nowadays. You can watch other people play video games, watch them drink whisky and eat food (this is big in South Korea, apparently), watch them draw or paint... And people do the watching in their millions. I think, if I wanted to play amateur sociologist for a second, that there is something linking the prevalence of online porn with that of these other forms of passive entertainment - clearly, there is something in our brains that makes us dangerously susceptible to vicariously enjoying fun things without having to go to the bother of doing it ourselves. 

(There seems something qualitatively different about watching people play a sport and watching them play D&D or have sex or drink whisky. I'm shit at rugby but I enjoy watching it. I can actually do all of the others.) 

It also isn't difficult to see why this is growing from a marketing point of view. Putting liveplays of D&D on youtube and doing nothing to discourage people from uploading such content themselves is a no-brainer for WotC. Of course that works as a form of marketing, and it's sort of amazing that nobody really thought of doing it properly until recently. 

Part of me welcomes this, even if the thought of watching other people play D&D generally brings me out in hives. When all's said and done, it's no different to watching TV, and I'd be a hypocrite if I said I never watched TV. And I would not disparage people who choose to do it, either as performer or audience. 

On the other hand, there's part of me, the fuddy-duddy Roger Scruton-reading part of me, that wants to assert that actually no, this is really fucking weird: watching other people play D&D is one of those fall-of-the-Roman-empire-style symptoms of civilisational decline - I can't think of much else that is more decadent and pointless, more of a waste of one's precious seconds on God's beautiful Earth, than watching other people play RPGs. At least the Romans got to have orgies and nice wine when they were allowing their civilisation to go to the dogs, for fuck's sake. 

But anyway. What is perhaps a more productive line of inquiry is: what happens to RPGs when they're performed in front of an audience - for the players and also the watchers? 

For the players, it seems to me that the urge to satisfy the audience must become overwhelming, and that this urge, if pursued, can't help but lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. Instead of being about the game, the practice will end up being about making sure that the content is entertaining. That will inevitably, I think, lead to narrativist-style Dragonlance-ism and pre-plotted campaigns: the idea that the game will speak for itself and let story emerge organically will be seen as too much of a risk of becoming boring or not making sense. (At its worst, this will lead to widespread scripting, which was clearly going on in Titansgrave: The Whatsit of Thingummy.) There may be honourable exceptions. But I suspect the general trend will be in this direction. 

And that will, I think, in turn lead to a perpetuation of that style of play among the watchers. I don't think anybody could dispute the proposition that online porn has changed the way lots of people have sex. Sex is nowadays frequently performed, obliquely or explicitly, with reference to pornography. The same thing, it seems to me, will happen with any sort of activity that is widely watched. People will want to - God help them - emulate the kinds of things Will Wheaton and his ilk get up to on their liveplays. It will happen inevitably. It can't be stopped.

I could, King Canute-like, rage against the dying of the light and try to put some more "old school" liveplays up there on youtube myself, but I increasingly think that the best course of action for a neo-luddite like me is just to try my best not to know anything about that world, insofar as it's possible to do so, and do the diametric opposite: play in a physical space with actual people, roll dice, and write stuff on notebooks in pencil - and hope that I can find enough like-minded people to keep the flames of civilisation going... 

Monday, 28 May 2018

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn....

The OSR, such as it is, can be thought of as having been an exercise in archaeology: digging out the "real game" from the layers of dull earth piled on top of it over the eons - and discovering what it does well when performed in optimal conditions.

But there are still things that D&D does badly. One of them is the passing of time. Despite Gygax's famous admonition that you CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT, D&D tends to ignore the passing of years and seasons as an in-game phenomenon. As a result, D&D campaigns, even long-running ones, typically pay at best lip service to the notion that "it is winter" (or whatever) and basically only keep track of how many days are passing by in order to see how many hit points are healed or how far a distance is traveled. (This may also be why D&D campaigns are ludicrously sped-up and compressed when you really think about it: the amount of stuff that D&D PCs get done over the course of an in-game week or month is typically crazily vast.) There are exceptions, I am sure. But this has been my overwhelming experience.

A lot gets missed this way. For one thing, the rhythm of the seasons is intrinsically interesting and can lead to different types of adventure. Pendragon is obviously the forerunner in this regard, but the cycle of: downtime in winter/preparations in spring/proper adventuring in summer/girding-of-loins for winter in autumn presents all kinds of important and useful challenges which lead very quickly, I think, to many interesting alternative modes of play. The potential of these different modes have not yet really begun to be properly explored - what can you do to make spell research, social climbing, storing of food, training, long-term plotting and scheming, and so forth, more interesting and gameable?

But there are long-term cycles and changes too. Populations of animals peak and crash due to annual variations in the real world, and also because of long-term trends whose causes we can only guess at. (This May there have been greenfly everywhere in my local area - vast swarms of them, even in the city centre. Where have they come from? They weren't here in these numbers last year.) Why wouldn't the same thing happen with the populations of orcs, kobolds, mold men and manticores - assuming these beings fit into the natural ecology? There are different species of insects who are locked into a 13- or 17-year breeding cycle. What if that was true of goblins - or gargantua?

Finally, what would or could the passing of the seasons mean in a fantasy world? Maybe magic fluctuates in power or changes its effects altogether from season to season. Maybe in winter beings from the spirit world visit ours. Maybe in spring giants migrate. Maybe astrology is real.